From the opening track “War Ensemble”, it’s clear that Slayer has one purpose in mind on this record and that’s pummeling the listener into oblivion. And they do just an absolutely excellent job of that.
It’s been a long time since I listened to South of Heaven but this feels faster to me. The riffs manage to be both knotty (at times) and played at pretty impressive speed. Even the slower tracks feel more up beat (compared to my memory).
And the solos are fast and dirty even when King (or Hanneman?) slows down (such as on Blood Red) you still feel the intensity of the playing.
Araya has never been my favourite singer but he certainly does well enough here, particularly when he does actually scream (as opposed to shout, which is what he does most of the time).
And the record sounds good – it sounds good to me now all these years later, which is often not true of metal albums from this period.
And it’s unrelenting – there’s basically no pause between each song and so the overall feeling is one of an onslaught, just an absolute onslaught.
So why only 8/10? Well, at the end of the day, it’s 1990. This is an excellent thrash record that is pretty close to my platonic ideal of what one should sound like. But it’s 6 ish years into the era of extreme metal, inaugurated by thrash, and the music history obsessive in me can’t quite get over that. This is a great record but it is out of step with the metal avant garde of 1990, whether you want to focus on death, black, groove, doom or drone – all of those things now either fully existed or were at least nascent and Slayer on this record are just blissfully unaware. That’s probably a really good thing for hardcore Slayer fans but if I’m going to give full marks I want something a little more innovative.